On March 2nd 2020, we marked Ash Wednesday at both midday and at an evening service.
Fr Peter Beck preached at the 7pm service.
Read on for the sermon text and service video.
In a few minutes we will solemnly come forward and a cross of ashes will be imprinted on our foreheads with the words - remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. It is a powerful moment full of imagery.
At Baptism we use the oil of chrism to mark the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly baptised. I guess all of us here have been baptised we were branded with the sign of the cross, rather like the way we brand cattle! It is a mark of ownership - it acknowledges that the newly baptised has been brought into a distinctive and unique relationship. 'Lord Jesus now I belong to you, and my way will be your way, for you are the way the truth and the life'. Gangs have their patches. We have the sign of the cross. We are members of the Jesus gang of the Jesus Gang!
Today we are again branded with the sign of the cross just as were at our baptism. The Cross, this central symbol of our faith - the mark of our salvation, and the unique expression of life-giving unconditional love of Jesus.
Let us not forget that this central symbol of our faith is a gibbet, a tool of execution. We cannot get away from the fact that our faith is the way of the cross. Our Christian journey entails costly discipleship if we are to be true to the unconditional love of God and of one another, the way of loving that Jesus expressed in his life. His death was a direct result of this way of loving. The resurrection is the proof that his way is the way, that to experience life in all its fullness, eternal life, to be truly human, to become who we are made in the image of God, requires us to take up our Cross and follow Christ. It was with those words that we were given the palm crosses which today have made these ashes.
A new commandment I give to you, says Jesus, that you love one another as I have loved you not the way I might love you or you might love one another. No the way Jesus loved us That is the way of love, the way Jesus loved. This Lent I invite you to ponder on Jesus way of loving. How am I practicing that in my own life? How often do I pause in what I am doing to ask myself ‘what might Jesus do now?’ If Jesus were standing along side me in the flesh now, would I say what is in my mind to say, would I gossip, would I cross over to the other side, would I condemn and judge, would I seek all that unites and heals and creates and challenge all that separates and injures and destroys. At the end of each day how well have I reflected the love of Christ in all I have done and been? What can I celebrate, and what do I need to confess. Can I suggest you make this a daily Lenten discipline, perhaps have a private note book or journal that you can write down your reflections and use them as a focus for your prayers?
And when I do make my confession of my failings, my sin, sometimes I imagine Jesus looking at me very intentionally, with a deep desire to draw me into newness of life. It's kind of - oh well, stand up again, brush yourself down, and start all over again. There are new life-giving opportunities always there for me and you, for this is the will of God as expressed in Christ Jesus. Lift up your head, lift up your heart, and come follow me.
The sign of the Cross in ashes made from our Palm Sunday crosses. The palms of welcome of celebration and triumph are now the ashes of our fickleness and fallen humanity. Remember the crowd of welcome became the crowd baying for blood. Oh woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and live amongst a people of unclean lips. The signing of the cross in ash reminds us that we continuously and regularly miss the mark, fall short, sin. When I ashed the children ofour school this morning I used the words ‘Jesus loves you and forgives you.’
This evening we use different words. We are reminded of our mortality – ‘remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’. Even more than that the sign reminds, we were created out of the dust and will return to the dust. Our life and destiny has been and is intertwined with the whole history of creation from the very beginning until the final fulfilment of all things. I know I am an integral part of the whole universe. I am intimately connected to and part of each and all living things for all were created and created out of the dust and return to the dust.
My contribution to the whole is my destiny and purpose. It is to love this universe, this earth, the whole of creation, for I am part of it - and no one is an island entire of itself.
To remember that I am dust, the creative element of life, and that I shall return to dust, is to embrace the wholeness and unity of all things and to call me into a deep desire to make a difference for good for and through all things.
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’ rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for God is gracious and merciful’.